Johannes Kreidler: multimedia music

sandris murins
25 composers
Published in
6 min readJun 6, 2020


I chose to interview Johannes Kreidler for my blogpost as he is one the brightest representative of multimedia music. He is professor for composition at the Academy of Music Basel. Johannes Kreidler lives in Berlin. His work is described as conceptual music and usually employs multimedial elements. He has won more than 10 awards and scholarships.

The interview is co-created by Laura Švītiņa who created text version of video interview.

What is a good musical composition for you?

The main aspect is that it is auto-reflexive, that it has an awareness of its conditions, and of social and cultural contexts as well as physical surroundings, and it tries to reflect this with its own means. The second aspect is, it should be original, there should be something new about it. The power of innovation is paradoxically the lasting effect: something was won, was captured for the first time. That’s the difference between a Bach fugue and a baroque fugue written today — one still feels that here a boundary has fallen.

Watch full interview with Johannes Kreider

What is your musical signature?

I want to do something new in every piece; but I would hardly say that in a single piece I could exhaustingly use a specific technique or idea, although I try my best to do so. For instance, if I have a specific concept, then I try to find the best application or the best use of such a concept. In the best scenario I do not have to repeat this again, but there are also some techniques and concepts which deserve exploring much more. In this way, a certain signature comes up. But I am hoping that in 10 years I will compose quite differently than I do now.

When I was studying in the early 2000s, I tried all kinds of different techniques, but something that especially affected me from 2005 on was working with samples and working with fragments from already existing music. This experience led me into conceptual thinking in both music listening and composing. It encouraged me to think much more about contexts of arts and political implications of music. This inspired me to create music pieces that consist of not only sound but also include other media like text, video, performance, etc. Hence it extended the definition of music or even proclaimed an anti definition of music itself: music as multimedia music or music as media art. And from this point of view, certain techniques, ideas, metaphors and symbols came up that can be seen and followed in many works of mine. This is not so much a self-stylization but a continuation of thoughts and practice which shape one’s idioms.

What is your process of composing?

I can explain it in opposition to an expressive way of composing, where the composer in the morning sits at his desk, takes the sheet music paper, and starts to express himself. That is not the way how it works for me. I am thinking much more of an overall concept and then see what path this concept demands from me. Practically this means, I am taking lots of input, listen, read, watch very much, and then sometimes an output arises. Another aspect is that I constantly learn new softwares which often inspires me.

How music technology shaped your music or how it shaped your compositional process or concepts?

I see that our world is extremely shaped by technology and that I as an artist should take part in this technological turns. Nowadays composers have sensor controllers for about 80 dollars which offer more possibilities than expensive studios 20 years ago. I am still enthusiastic about what I as a composer can get from technology. And of course it leads to philosophical questions, how media that we have shaped in turn shape us.


How machine learning and artificial intelligence technology can shape the world of composition?

I do not know exactly why, but AI is not occupying my thoughts a lot. Maybe, because it technically still is in a very early stage and for me it is unpredictable how relevant this technology for music will become. Nevertheless, in my piece “Fremdarbeit” from 2009 it already played a role, as for the piece I paid an Indian programmer to write a software using AI to imitate my musical style.

What do you fear the most as a composer?

One fear is that I would not get the means and opportunities to realize the things and ideas that I would like to realize. And the other fear is that I compose too much. I always say to my students that, for every single tone and every single frequency you must ask yourself — is this one really, really, absolutely necessary? Only if you are damn sure that it must be in this world, then do it, but if not, then feel happy to leave it out.

Why are you still composing?

Because I have ideas and I am asked to make works and I see the necessity to react to the world and shape it, a world which is “still” changing, and hopefully I can contribute to make it change to something better. My kind of categorical imperative is simply: I am enthusiastic about art in general and so thankful for all the pieces of art that were and are created by humans. As I also have some aesthetic ideas, maybe with my contributions I can also enrich the world.

As an active music observer how would you describe the change in music composition scene over the past 10 years?

The most obvious trend is: music is becoming more multimedia and boundaries between art genres are dissolving.

Do you observe some changes in the audience? Is it decreasing or increasing, is there a change in the age of the audience, are new people coming in?

Due to the rise of social media that connect people all over the world, the network of new music is much bigger now than 20 years ago. There is also a growth in the concert audience and the acceptance of new music. I recall bits of the dark old times from the late 1990s, early 2000s when in concerts it was still nasty to scrape with the bow on the violin etc. This has not wiped out, but the acceptance of new music has grown considerably. And even as a market it has grown, hence dozens of New Music Ensembles have been founded in the last decade and in Music Universities it is getting an evident part of the curriculum.

What is the role of new music in society?

New music is driven by the imagination, a role of new music is to work on extending definitions, extending our horizons. New music is for all those who are interested in music and sound, and in inherent cultural practices like the performance of music, the building of instruments and writing music. All these cultural practices are the fields of new answers and new possibilities.

What would be your advice or suggestions to young composers starting their career?

Get a day job, so that you have a secure existence but also the energy and time to develop the things you are really interested in. And I would recommend learning to code software. This gives you a lot of power and knowledge about algorithms as we are constantly dealing with them.

What would be your picture of new music in the future, for example, the next 10 years?

We do not know what kind of world will follow up. Future predictions tend to be paradoxical. I can almost not speak even about the next one or two years. But of course I can take part in shaping it a bit. What I am working on at the moment is a film, which will premiere at the The Donaueschingen Festival in 2021.

Selection of works created by Johannes Kreidler